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Yesterday, News Corp suggested that the Morrison government will raise the welfare rate. According to the minister in charge, they’ve planned no such thing.
While COVID-19 has doubled the unemployment benefit to $1,100 a fortnight, it is due to end in September. Yesterday, News Corp broke the story that the Morrison government were planning to raise the benefit by $75 a week above the original rate. However, the minister in charge of moving the payment, Anne Ruston said: “What I can say about the story that was written today is there is no submission to the effect that has been reported in the paper. We are very focused on the temporary measures we need to put in place to make sure that we can get Australians through this pandemic to the other side.”
When the Federal Government announced an increase to the JobSeeker allowance in its economic stimulus package in March 2020, it was the first time there had been an increase in the unemployment benefit in 25 years.
Overnight, the payment was effectively doubled, but at the time of the announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made it clear this was a ‘temporary’ COVID-19 measure.
What is clearly needed, however, is more stimulus. After two decades, the coalition is finally talking about raising the rate. For context, September is the danger point. When the original subsidy runs out, unemployment will spike, as many businesses kept alive by the package will not be able to survive without it.
MPs call for the temporary increase to be made permanent
A senate committee is urging the government to extend the increase beyond its original 6-month timeframe.
About 1.5 million now receive the social security payment, and that number is expected to climb to around 1.7 million in the coming months.
The figures reflect the downturn in the economy, and also the fact that under its emergency rescue plan the government stopped asset testing and stand-down periods, which relaxed eligibility criteria.
The Senate report warns that before these changes people were being driven into poverty, food insecurity, debt, homelessness and mental anguish because of insufficient payments and strict payment conditions.
By any measure, giving people just $40 per day, provides them with an unacceptable standard of living, leaving them completely vulnerable, trapped, and unable to be productive members of our community.
But despite its scathing remarks about the current situation, the committee stopped short of making a recommendation with regard to what the JobSeeker payment should be post-COVID-19. It did, however, refer to Parliamentary Budget Office figures that said a fortnightly income of at least $1,012 was required to ensure recipients do not live below measures of poverty defined by the OECD.
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The committee also made a list of recommendations and called for a ‘thorough review’ of the system.
While it also raised concerns that currently the allowance actually acts as a barrier to people accessing employment and housing – not just for those looking for work, but also students, and people with a disability, as well as First Nations people, and those from culturally diverse backgrounds as well as people living in regional and remote areas; it also highlighted the fact that victims of domestic violence are often trapped with an abuser because they don’t have enough money to flee.
It also showed that Indigenous Australians, who are at higher risk of long-term unemployment for a variety of reasons (lack of formal education, learning disabilities and other social disadvantages) are often penalised because they fail to meet the JobSeeker criteria for looking for work.
But these are things we already know.
It’s frustrating to think that a decision cannot simply be made. The Government showed that it was able to move quickly to make decisions and implement policy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, giving many people a little hope that a post-pandemic Parliament might reconsider it’s endless feasibility studies, political posturing and point-scoring and simply get on with solving urgent issues in a democratic and sensible way.
The paltry JobSeeker payment has had plenty of debate already in Parliament and many MPs have openly stated their public support for an increase.
In fact, former Prime minister, John Howard has also backed a raise. The Australian Council of Social Service told the senate committee that an increase to JobSeeker would be the “single-most effective” means of reducing poverty in Australia, advocating that it be increased to a minimum of $95 a day.
But in recent months, the PM seems to retain some ignorance over the severity of the crisis unfolding as he maintains the position that current temporary increases will not be put in place for the long term. While we’re finally on the cusp of having that conversation, it’s best we recognise who we’re speaking with. He is, after all, famous for once saying “the best form of welfare is a job.”